The Dilemma of Spare Embryos After IVF Success: Social Workers’ Role in Helping Clients Consider Disposition Options

  • Stephanie Boys Indiana University
  • Julie Walsh Indiana University
Keywords: In vitro fertilization (IVF), assisted reproductive technology (ART), reproductive counseling, frozen embryos, embryo disposition


Social work services for persons undergoing the in vitro fertilization process
(IVF) has greatly lagged behind the medical technology opportunities provided to these clients. Advocacy for social work services for persons undergoing IVF was advanced upon the procedure’s initial development, but there has been a stark lack of recent scholarship regarding social work in fertility health services. The existing literature suggests several talking points regarding the IVF process to be discussed with persons considering IVF, especially the medical and psychological risks of failure. This article discusses a newer and necessary topic to cover in pre-IVF counseling: the possibility of too much success in the form of excess embryos. Although the topic must be covered with sensitivity to the relatively low rate of IVF success, persons receiving care through assisted reproductive
technology (ART) need to be prepared for the difficult moral questions raised when IVF procedures result in even more embryos than intended. Social workers need to be prepared to explore the pros and cons of each disposition option with IVF clients.

Author Biographies

Stephanie Boys, Indiana University
Associate Professor of Social Work
Julie Walsh, Indiana University
Doctoral Student in Social Work


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